Turned up on my Nexus 7 today. No idea what’s changed, but it was a pretty small update.

Neat video from NVIDIA, showing how they can reproduce some famous Apollo 11 images from first principles with computer models and modern GPU power.


I have another flash short in an anthology with Hugh Howey and ninety-nine other writers. It’s free on Amazon, so grab it when you can:


Warlock and beer

Warlock’s Brew cover

New story is almost done, it’s another Uncle Jim time travel tall tale, a prequel to The One That Got Away. Just need to do a bit of cleaning up before it’s ready to upload next week.

Android 5.0.1 just turned up on my Nexus 7. No idea what’s changed, just some bug-fixes, from the look of it.

I’m also giving Drive Thru Fiction a try. I should be uploading most of my books that aren’t currently Amazon-exclusive over the next few weeks.

Don’t expect to see any books there for a few days, as I’m waiting for them to do their quality check first. I’ll also have to figure out how to create .mobi files as well as .epub.

Looks like I’ll be spending Christmas reformatting and uploading all over the web.

A couple of my flash shorts are in this charity anthology:


I’m in the process of uploading my books to Google Books. Spent most of the afternoon writing scripts to automatically convert my LibreOffice files to .epub and .pdf for Google, and it’s now pretty easy. I’ll upload the ones that aren’t Amazon-exclusive over the next couple of weeks.

I did finally get this update on my Nexus 7 a week or two back. Overall, there aren’t that many differences, and it’s still missing real, useful permission controls.


Smoother. Kindle app, in particular, doesn’t seem to chug as much when reading books or scrolling through the list of books.


Many things now take longer. For example, getting to the settings requires two screen touches instead of one, and logging in requires swiping the screen before you can type the password. The animations are kind of useful, but time consuming.


The new look is flatter than the old one. I honestly don’t see why anyone thought it was worth investing all the time to develop, and some apps look much worse with the new look. Seems like change for change’s sake.

So, despite the rumours, seems like Android 5 still isn’t out yet. I’ve been checking the Nexus 7 a couple of times a day, and nothing has shown up. Guess we’ll be waiting a few weeks longer before it’s available to upgrade.

Finally got around to upgrading. So far it works no worse than 16, except my fancy login screen has been replaced with some crappy username/password entry box, and encrypted swap partitions no longer work (apparently the latter is a known bug).

Here’s roughly how I did it:

1. Use the backup tool to save a list of installed applications.
2. Boot up, plug in the USB backup drive and log in to a console terminal.
3. cd /tmp and sudo -i to become root, not in my own home directory.
4. Since I have an encrypted home directory, I now want to unmount /home/emg so nothing can write to the directory while I’m backing it up. So umount /home/emg.
5. Copy /home to the backup drive. This saves an encrypted backup which can be reloaded if everything goes horribly wrong.
6. While doing that, make a list of the partitions on the disk.
7. Unmount the backup drive, unplug it, and reboot on the install disk.
8. Select to install. Select all partitions other than /home, and choose to reformat them and install.
9. Set the hostname and username, and ensure you pick the same password as you had before, so the encrypted home directory will work.
10. Install.
11. Reboot.
12. Edit /etc/fstab to mount the old home partition as /home.
13. Reboot.
14. Log in as yourself, update (in my case, I had to download about 400 upgraded packages) and finish installing the packages you need.
15. Reboot for safety. Job done.

Houdini on the pumpkin

Happy Halloween from Houdini Hamster…

Another interview is up at Judy Goodwin’s blog.

Smiling zombie


My new Victorian fungus zombie short story should be up on Amazon shortly. I wrote the original version a couple of years ago for a print anthology, as an attempt to create a hard SF zombie story. It ended up less hard SF than zombie, so it didn’t get into the anthology, but I’ve since rewritten it to be about three times as long and cleared up the problems readers reported.

It’s discounted to $0.99 for Halloween, so, if you want a copy, get it while it’s cheap.

Should be at Amazon shortly.

Wow… I hadn’t seen this video before, showing IR footage of the Falcon-9 first stage re-entry.


Hoping to have this novel out next month, though there’s still proof-reading to do before it’s ready to go.

One of the most tedious parts of preparing the paperback print-on-demand version of a book is fixing up the formatting to minimize hyphens, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), and dangling words on a single line at the end of a paragraph. This is particularly difficult if you’re formatting on the cheap with a word processor rather than a proper page layout tool like InDesign.

Fortunately, LibreOffice includes some useful features which can make your life easier. I would assume other programs like Word will have similar options hidden away in their settings, too.

For example, I added a missing comma to this paragraph which used to be two lines, and it suddenly became three, leaving a dangling word at the end, and creating an orphan where it pushed the final line of the final paragraph on that page onto the next page.

Three-line paragraph

Too many lines

So, how do we fix this? Changing margins would work, but would impact the entire book. Changing font size would work, but would stand out if we reduced it by even half a point. Revising the wording would work, but it’s already about as sparse as it can be.

The answer is in the character formatting:

Width set to 98%

Character format window

The LibreOffice Character Format window has a ‘scale width’ option, which leaves the font height the same, but makes it wider or narrower. If you change this by a few percent, it will change the position of the words, but not be obvious to the reader. In this case, we’re changing it to 98%, for a tiny 2% reduction in character width.

Now only two lines.

Scaled paragraph.

Job done. We’re now back to two lines, and you can’t even see the joins.

Now, let’s look at another option. Instead of scaling the font horizontally, we could scale the entire page vertically.

Here’s the original page, with the evil paragraph which caused all this fuss:

Page with no scaling, and evil paragraph highlighted

Full-size page

So, next, we select all the text on the page, and choose paragraph formatting. If there were some dangling lines at the top of the page where a paragraph was split across a page break, we’d skip them.

Window with line spacing set to 98%

Paragraph Format window

The Paragraph Format window has a line spacing control, which lets you specify spacing as a percentage. In this case, we can set it to 98% to slightly reduce the spacing on this page.

This allows LibreOffice to move the orphan from the next page back to meet the widow on this one:

Page with line spacing scaled to 98%

Modified page

So there’s an alternate way to fix the page, without changing the paragraph. Personally, I prefer the character spacing change as this page will have one more line than the facing page, so the two will seem misaligned. But, it may be useful in some cases where you can’t fix the formatting any other way.

I must admit, I liked the CR-V a lot more than I thought I would. It was kind of the ‘safe and bland’ option on our list of CUVs to test-drive, and, though I liked the interior when I sat in one before test-driving, I wasn’t expecting that much.

Essentially, it’s the old Accord drivetrain, with a 2.4 liter engine and five-speed automatic gearbox, in a CUV body. Some might consider that bad, as it’s obviously old technology. However, it’s proven pretty robust on the road, with few problems other than occasional VTEC actuator failures. With so many other manufacturers rushing out relatively unproven technology like direct injection engines and CVTs to improve fuel economy, there’s something to be said for sticking with what works. Rumour has it that the CR-V may switch to the new CVT-based Accord drivetrain in the 2015 model.

Style-wise, it’s nothing special, with a non-descript front end and a fat butt. Looking at it from the outside, I expected the visibility to be poor with the small rear windows, but it seemed good enough on the road. In addition, the side mirrors have convex outer sections which expand their field of view.

The interior is comfortable and feels bigger than the Rogue. While I’m not sure I’d use them, the armrests are long and attached to the seat, rather than part of the center console. At first, the gearstick seems peculiarly placed, high up at the front, but that opens up space between the seats for storage, and my girlfriend could put her purse there while driving. Small things, but enough of them do add up.

Driving felt rather like a big Civic, other than the analogue gauges instead of the digital speedometer. Having driven thousands of miles in a Civic, I now have a hard time adapting to traditional instruments, and wish everyone else would switch to a similar design. Having the speed, temperature and fuel always in view means I never have to look away from the road.

One thing I soon noticed, driving on a windy day, is that crosswinds cause the back to wiggle at highway speeds. However, that’s not something we run into often, and probably not much worse than the Civic.

The AWD system on the CR-V isn’t the best, as an electronic system which waits for the front wheels to slip before moving power to the rear. But it’s capable of limited off-road use and should be good enough to drive around town in bad weather. Unfortunately we didn’t have any snow or ice to test it on, and didn’t have time to take it down our standard gravel back-road to compare to others we drove.

Overall, there are good reasons it’s often been the best-selling CUV in North America. Bland, yeah. But it does what most people need, and does it reliably. Safety ratings aren’t quite as good as some of the competition, but they’re close, and must be a heck of a lot better than the twenty-year-old car it would be replacing.

The one deal-breaker in the end was the ride. I thought it was OK, but my girlfriend was feeling a bit car-sick by the end of our hour-long drive. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of thing you can’t easily fix, so it dropped to second place on our list as a result.